Travelers who use a wheelchair for mobility will find a wealth of opportunities for discovery and adventure in majestic Rocky Mountain National Park. The very best of what Rocky has to offer—wildlife observation, nature exploration, tent camping and driving tours—is wheelchair accessible.
If you use a wheelchair because of a permanent disability and are a U.S. citizen, the first thing to know before visiting the park is that you are eligible for an America the Beautiful Access Pass. The pass provides free park admittance, and is also valid at more than 2,000 national parks and federal recreational sites across the country. An Access Pass can be obtained at the park or by mail ahead of your visit.
Once you have your pass in hand, the fun of trip planning begins.
Camping Under the Stars
Lodging options are plentiful in the RMNP’s gateway towns—Estes Park and Grand Lake—however, I always encourage travelers to consider camping inside the park. When staying overnight in Rocky, the crowds of the day subside, and the opportunity to witness something delightfully unpredictable increases—like a beautiful early morning fog settling over Moraine Park, or a deer family scampering through the trees at dusk. Moraine Park, Glacier Basin and Timber Creek campgrounds each feature a selection of wheelchair-accessible campsites, which include raised fire grates and accessible picnic tables.
In addition to car-camping options, one accessible backcountry campsite is found at gorgeous Sprague Lake, located on the east side of the park. Favorite activities at this spot include picnicking, fishing, nature observation, and photography. To reserve the accessible campsite at Sprague Lake, one or more individuals in your party must use a wheelchair. The site is located a half-mile away from the Sprague Lake parking lot, and travel is along a wheelchair-accessible, hardpacked gravel trail. All gear needs to be packed in. Once settled, head down to the lake’s accessible fishing pier or cook up a feast, relax by the fire, and curl up with a good book.
Wheelchairs are allowed on any trail in Rocky, with four trails in the park specifically designated as wheelchair accessible: Lily Lake, Bear Lake, and Sprague Lake on the east side; as well as Coyote Valley Trail on the west side. If you have the time, visit all four. That said, Lily Lake is one trail that always rises to the top of my list.
On a summer day at the lake, you might spot beautiful wildflowers, a variety of birds, or wildlife enjoying the water (like ducks and muskrats). The trail circling Lily Lake is wide and a portion of the path consists of sturdy boardwalk.
In the Kawuneeche Valley, Coyote Valley Trail is a gorgeous path to explore. Highlights along this wide and flat trail include expansive meadow and mountain views, interpretive signs, and an up-close look at the mighty Colorado River.
Variable weather conditions can temporarily affect the quality of all of Rocky’s trails, and afternoon thunderstorms are typical in the summer months.
High Elevation Adventures
Two stunning driving tours—Old Fall River Road and Trail Ridge Road—belong on everyone’s ‘must-do’ list when visiting the park in the summer months. Old Fall River Road is a one-way, adventurous dirt road driving tour that ends at the park’s Alpine Visitor Center at 11,796 ft. elevation. This breathtaking journey includes plenty of sweeping views and opportunities to see pretty tundra flowers. Alpine Visitor Center is wheelchair accessible, and features exhibits, a ranger desk, and small gift shop. Check the park newspaper for ranger talks scheduled at this location (summer only).
The most talked about driving tour in the park, Trail Ridge Road, is the highest continuous paved road in the United States and features eleven miles of pavement above tree line. Accessible parking is available at a number of sightseeing pull-outs along the road; check the NPS website for specifics. The tundra landscape is truly otherworldly, with opportunities to spot pikas, marmots, moose, bighorn sheep or other wildlife along the way.
For more information about wheelchair accessibility in Rocky, be sure to visit Access Rocky Guide.